By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Before you get starting planting tomatoes in pots, you can take steps to make sure your container gardening is as healthy as possible.
As with many of life’s accomplishments, growing tomatoes in containers successfully has a lot to do with preparation and making good choices ahead of time. Just a little bit of information before you slip on the garden gloves helps you get started well.
Note that these tips help you before planting tomato pots -- as you're thinking about and planning your container tomatoes. For step-by-step directions for tomato planting in pots, click here.
Select the biggest pot as possible for your container tomatoes. The more space your tomato has to grow in, the healthier it will be.
Tomato plants grow quickly and as a result require plenty of water, sun, and food in order to accommodate that growth. Their speed means roots grow fast. Plants develop extensive root systems but in containers, their reach is limited. As a result, root systems in tomato pots can become root-bound. You can offset that problem by giving tomato plants a roomy home. You’ll have the most success if you use tomato pots that are 5 gallons or larger and that have at least one square foot of surface growing space. (Read more about choosing containers and pots for tomatoes.)
The best types of tomatoes to grow in containers are bush varieties, dwarf varieties, short-season varieties, and determinate varieties – for obvious reasons: they don’t get as big as other types of tomatoes, they mature faster, and they finish growing at a certain point in the season. Buy tomato seedlings rather than starting your plants from seed to give your container tomatoes a strong start. Extra tip: plant one plant per container so it doesn’t compete with other tomato plants or companion plants for space, water, and nutrients.
Tomatoes grown in containers need a loose, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Successful gardeners recommend using a good potting mix rather than potting soil or garden soil. Potting soil can be too heavy for containers. Soil harvested straight from the garden is most likely infested with fungi, weed seeds, and pests. Learn what to look for in a good potting mix and how to save money by making your own. Extra tip: moisten your potting mix slightly before planting.
Tomatoes need at least 6-8 hours of full sun a day. Before planting tomatoes in pots, choose a spot for your containers – one where they get enough light. Monitor the spot at regular intervals during the day to track exposure.
One of the biggest dangers to container tomatoes is that the soil dries out. During a heat wave you may need to water them daily. Whether you set your tomato pots near your garden hose or you have a convenient way to water them with a pitcher or watering can, make sure you have easy access to a water source. You will use it!
More about Growing Tomatoes in Containers
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